When Benedict XVI was elected pope in 2005, religious observance among Europeans had been in decline for decades, and the German-born pontiff dedicated himself to combating secularisation in Europe.
Is there evidence that European Catholics – or Europeans in general – are any more committed to their faith than they were at the beginning of his papacy?
A new analysis from Pew Research Center polls indicate that during Benedict’s papacy religious observance among Catholics in France, Germany, Spain and Italy – the four countries with the largest Catholic populations in Western Europe – remained low but fairly stable.
Across all four countries, a minority of Catholics say religion is very important in their lives. No more than 15 per cent of French Catholics, roughly a third of Spanish Catholics and about a quarter of Italian Catholics have said in recent Pew Research polls that religion is “very important” to them personally.
In 2006, one year after Benedict’s election, about half (52 per cent) of German Catholics said religion was very important in their lives – a significant rise from 36 per cent in 2002. But the figure fell back to 36 p er centin a 2007 Pew Research poll in Germany, and no more than 42 per cent of German Catholics rated religion as very important to them in five subsequent polls.
Few European Catholics pray at least once a day. French Catholics are among the least likely to engage in daily prayer (between 11 per cent and 17 per cent report in recent years that they pray daily). German and Spanish Catholics pray at higher rates than French Catholics, but in recent years fewer than four-in-ten in both countries have said they engage in daily prayer. Among Italian Catholics about three-in-ten pray every day.
In France, Germany and Spain, few Catholics report going to Mass on a weekly basis. In four surveys conducted between 2009 and 2011, no more than 10 per cent of French Catholics said they attend Mass at least weekly. By comparison, between 24 per cent and 31 per cent of Spanish Catholics have said they attend church at least once a week in polls conducted between 2009 and 2011.
Among Catholics in Germany, roughly one-in-five said they go to Mass on a weekly basis in 2009 and 2010. In Pew Research polling in 2011, a slightly lower proportion of German Catholics (16 per cent) reported attending Mass at least once a week.
The full analysis, including additional information on the size of the Catholic populations in the four countries, is available at www.pewforum.org